Students at Montrose High School

Students walk into Montrose High School's main building during the school year in 2019.

Montrose County School District is still waiting for official COVID guidelines from the state, but district spokesman Matt Jenkins said he could “reasonably predict” the local policy won’t be more aggressive than what the state decrees. 

Governor Jared Polis dropped the statewide mandate in schools and let districts decide if fully vaccinated people could go maskless in May. Jenkins said that the district’s policy was not changed until early June for summer school programs.

On July 1, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced that masks are no longer required in public schools for unvaccinated adults and children 11 and older. Jenkins said that the CDPHE and the Colorado Department of Education are working on new guidance for school districts that will be released next month.

Jenkins predicted that the district will likely still encourage mask wearing in schools, but will continue to collaborate with the county public health department to ensure that COVID policies are relevant to local conditions.

Many teachers received vaccinations when they first became eligible in February, but the district is has not yet declared that they will require vaccinations for staff and students.

Some educational institutions in Colorado have already announced vaccination requirements for staff. Aurora Public Schools announced in May that all school staff are required to receive a COVID vaccination. However, the order is pending full approval of a vaccine from the Food and Drug Administration, which has not yet been granted.

Many of Colorado’s major public colleges, including the University of Colorado system, joined thousands of other colleges and universities around the country when a COVID vaccination requirement for students, staff and faculty was announced in April.

Western Colorado University in Gunnison and Fort Lewis College in Durango are also requiring vaccinations, but the president of Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction announced in April that vaccinations will not be required.

In Montrose, students 12 and older, who became eligible for the vaccine in May, are strongly encouraged — but not required — to get shots before the start of the school year.

“The state has not told us to require [vaccination] of our students, but we certainly do strongly encourage all children aged 12 and older to pursue vaccination,” Jenkins said. “That’s how we’re going to be able to keep the schools open” — and make sure that sports, clubs and other activities can occur. “Vaccination is a good way to make sure that you’re safe from COVID and don’t have to stay home.”

During the previous academic year, the state provided rapid testing to the district and they worked to make sure that exposed students and staff could get the more-reliable PCR tests.

Although Colorado’s pandemic-related regulations are being relaxed, the state is planning on deploying $173 million of federal funding to boost testing in public schools. Officials hope that students and staff everywhere will be able to receive weekly tests.

Jenkins said that he has not yet been contacted by state officials about the new testing program, which does not yet have a vendor, but is looking forward to hearing from them.

“We’re going to conform to whatever the state requires us to do, and we’re going to make sure that in all our policies everything we do is prioritizing keeping students and staff healthy and safe, as we always do,” Jenkins said.

Anna Lynn Winfrey is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

Anna Lynn Winfrey is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

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